Tag Archives: autism

Using Routines to Help Autistic Students With Post-High School Transition

The transition from high school to employment or college is a stressful challenge for any teenager, but that change in environment can be exponentially more difficult to navigate for a teen on the autism spectrum. Educators and parents can use routines to help prepare children for post-high school transitioning and cultivate skills they will need once they graduate.

Establishing routines can help autistic young adults become more independent and practice foundational skills they will need in their adult lives. Everything from telling time and self-grooming to balancing checkbooks and going on job interviews can be cultivated and practiced through routines. 

Start by identifying the task or activity you want to teach. Break it down into ordered steps and individualize the routine. Make a routine of practicing the routine. (Practice regularly, preferably at the same time and in the same environment.) Start by using a combination of natural and instructional cues. Use instructional cues to reinforce natural cues so that eventually the student will be able to complete the routine independently, using only natural cues.  Once the routine is mastered and becomes… routine, you can introduce changes such as location or time. The goal is for the student to understand the natural cue to begin the activity. 

If an autistic young adult practices routines they will need when they move on to college or employment, they will feel less overwhelmed by a new environment. If they are prepared with proper responses to possible scenarios, their transition will be less stressful and more likely to be a successful one.

Study Finds Inclusive Classrooms Boost Language Skills

Inclusive Classrooms Can Boost Language Up to 40%

A new study published in Psychologilcal Science finds that young children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD), particularly those with speech delays, improve their language development more rapidly in inclusive educational and social environments. The study found that preschoolers with disabilities who attended mainstream classes were using language on par with their highly skilled peers within just one school year. In contrast, ASD preschoolers who were surrounded solely by other children with a similar level of disability lagged far behind their typically-developing peers in the same time frame.

The study focused on 670 preschoolers in Ohio, of which slightly more than half had a language impairment, autism, or Down syndrome. Language skills of all the children were measured at the beginning and end of the school year via standardized testing.

The children with disabilities in inclusive classrooms outperformed those in exclusive classrooms for children with disabilities by 40 percent at the end of the year. Laura Justice, a professor of teaching and learning at Ohio State University and co-author of the study concludes that, “the typically-developing children act as experts who can help their classmates who have disabilities.”

It should be noted that while the children with disabilities were positively influenced by their highly-skilled peers, the children with the highest skill level were in no way negatively impacted by their exposure to their peers with disabilities.

The findings of this study certainly indicate that children can only benefit from an inclusive setting where they can learn from more advanced children and assist less advanced children. “We have to give serious thought to how we organize our classrooms to give students with disabilities the best chance to succeed,” Justice said.

Probiotics May help Alleviate Autism Symptoms

Probiotics are a diet supplement trend credited with magical properties ranging from weight loss to anti-aging. Several new studies however show that they very well may help to alleviate Autism symptoms as well.  These studies link Autism with digestive issues which probiotics are known to help manage.

One such study from the National Institute of Heath reports that probiotics can reduce inflammation in the digestive tract that is thought to be partly responsible for some symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).  The study found that the balance of microorganisms in an infant’s digestive tract influences postnatal development.

Studies from the California Institute of Technology indicate that microbiomes of autistic people are differ from those without autism, which they believe contributes to the disorder.  Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) supports this theory, reporting that autistic children are more than three times more likely to suffer from chronic diarrhea or constipation. These chronic inflammatory conditions in the digestive tract are commonly attributed to a condition referred to as “leaky gut syndrome”, or intestinal permeability. The Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition reports on a study that concludes the incidence of intestinal permeability is significantly higher in patients with ASD and their first-degree relatives.

Caltech researchers injected test mice with microbes that induced leaky gut syndrome. These mice then exhibited symptoms associated with Autism such as anxiety, aloofness, and excessive grooming in addition to the expected digestive discomforts. After targeted probiotics were added to the mice’s diets, their leaky guts healed, bacterial molecule level dropped dramatically, and their microbiomes started to resemble those of healthy mice. The most exciting changes though, were in the mice’s behavior – within five weeks, they became more vocal, less anxious, and decreased their obsessive activities.

The bottom line: researchers are convinced that at the very least, probiotics will alleviate inflammation that can affect language as well as cognitive and social development. It has not yet been determined whether probiotics are more effective when taken in supplement form or in whole foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha, pickles, and kimchi. A range of 15 to 30 billion healthy microorganisms are recommended as part of a daily diet to alleviate intestinal inflammation.




The Struggle for ABA Coverage

When 2-year-old Tony Burke was diagnosed with autism, his parents like many in their shoes, wanted to get him the best services they could that would serve their child’s needs. After doing some research they decided to start him with applied behavioral analysis therapy or ABA therapy, which is considered to be one of the most effective treatment methods for those on the spectrum. After some time, Tony’s grunting noises turned into words and then smaller sentences—the therapy was working. But then something happened that slowed down all his hard work—his family’s insurance started to deny claims.

In Pennsylvania, health insurance laws require ABA therapy to be covered, though in Tony’s case, his therapy was not covered in school, where he needed the most help. His family all of a sudden could not afford o pay therapy costs—adding up to $80,000 a year. These autism coverage acts were passed since 2010 in states like Pennsylvania and New Jersey, but coverage for ABA therapy still remains hard to obtain.

The prevalence of complaints can be hard to assess since the law also requires Medicaid to cover autismservices leaving providers who don’t get paid by private insurance with the option to just bill Medicaid. Some insurers also avoid covering therapies a child can get at school, including ABA, by dumping cost onto public schools or other agencies.

Another major problem is delayed payments. Kara Matunas from New Jersey had her claims for her 2 year old autistic daughter repeatedly denied. Her daughter Reagan, was receiving early intervention, speech, developmental, and occupational therapy. Two of the denials were reportedly “incorrectly generated due to a manual handling error.”

“They’re just purposely delaying coverage,” Mrs. Matunas explains. Even when the claims are eventually paid, the family is left paying $400-$500 a month which can be especially hard on even middle-class families. Autism laws apply only to fully insured plans where companies have a contract with insurance companies to pay claims. However, as more and more large firms are converting to self-funded plans where they have to pay for care more directly from their own wallets, coverage seems harder to come by.

Shema Kolainu – Hear Our Voices is a non-profit school and center for children with autism that offer a variety of services at no cost to families all over New York City. They not only offer center-based services, including ABA, speech, art, occupational, therapies to name a few, but also home based services that reach hundreds of families. Organizations like Shema Kolainu have had great success in helping children on the autism spectrum from early intervention to school-age children, and hope to offer services to families like the Burke’s and Matunas who need these services to help their children succeed.

The Benefits of Early Behavioral Intervention

Researchers have analyzed the success of early behavioral interventions. (photo: specialedpost.com)

According to researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, children on the autism spectrum have benefited tremendously from behavior-focused therapies, in comparison to those who did not receive the early behavioral intervention. The recent study updates the prior systematic reviews of interventions, with a focus on recent studies of behavioral interventions.

The review, which was conducted by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, funded by Vanderbilt, states that the quality of research studies has improved dramatically within just 3 years, when authors reported that there were significant gaps in the research that documented the benefits of certain treatments. The new review provides evidence of the effectiveness of early intervention, specifically interventions with behavioral approaches based on applied behavioral analysis (ABA) principles.

Dr. Amy Weitlauf, assistant professor of Pediatrics and an investigator at Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, states, “We are finding more solid evidence, based on higher quality studies, that theseearly intensive behavioral interventions can be effective for young children on the autism spectrum, especially related to their cognitive and language skills.” Dr. Weitlauf continues, “We are also finding evidence that some of these targeted interventions, especially related to cognitive treatments for anxiety disorders, are also very effective for many, many children. Again, responses vary substantially and there are some children for whom these treatments have not yet been studied. So there is lots of promising evidence that these interventions are helpful, but we definitely need more research on which kids the treatments are more helpful for over time.”

Dr. Zachary Warren, director of TRIAD, the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center’s Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders, focused on the improvements in children receivingearly behavioral intervention. These children were documented to display impressive progress in cognitive, educational, and language skills. Dr. Warren states, “Given the potential for interventions to powerfully improve children’s quality of life, in combination with the significant costs and resources often associated with treatment, it is not surprising that many groups — parents, providers, policymakers, insurance providers — are searching for an enhanced understanding of which interventions work the best for children with ASD.”

One of the biggest topics facing medical experts is finding the fastest and most effective ways to diagnose a child with ASD, as the diagnosis will enable the child to receive theearly intervention that can truly make the biggest difference in their lives. This study is just one example of howearly behavioral intervention can build multiple skills in the child, and provide them the methods to grow in various aspects to live a life full of opportunities.

Autism CARES Act Wins Unanimous Senate Approval

U.S. Senate Passes Autism CARES Act

Great news came from Washington, D.C. late last night as the U.S. Senate voted unanimously to renew the Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education, and Support Act (Autism CARES Act). Just before leaving for a month long break, The Senate approved the act authorizing $260 millon in annual federal funding through 2019.  Without this funding renewal, autism research, professional training, early diagnosis and intervention, may have come to a screeching halt.

U.S. Senator Robert Menedez, D-N.J. is the lead sponsor of the legislation says, “The Senate’s action today ensures these vital autism programs are reauthorized and continue providing research, services and supports individuals with autism and their families have come to rely on.”

 Aside from the renewal of federal funding, the Autism CARES Act details changes to the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee and the need for an autism point person at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The act also facilitates a new report on the needs of autistic youths transitioning to adulthood.

Dogs May Be Able to Increase Concentration and Socialization in Children with ASD

Therapy Sessions Incorporating Dogs Have Seen Great Success (photo: allaboutautismbni.com)

A recent study has shown that autistic children who take part in therapies involving animals, particularly dogs, tend to be more relaxed and have a better ability to concentrate. Furthermore, introducing children to dogs can potentially improve a child’s socialization and ability to express themselves.

Researchers at Green Chimneys in Brewster, NY, have analyzed how the use of various animals can play therapeutic roles for individuals with autism, as well as those with other disabilities or disorders. At the Sam and Myra Ross Institute at Green Chimneys, researchers have looked at how groups of autistic children react when certified therapy dogs are incorporated into their therapy sessions. According to the researchers, animals, particularly many breeds of dogs, can serve as a bridge between the therapist and the child. Michael Kaufman, the institute’s director, states, “Intuitively and anecdotally, we can see how contact with animals works.” He continues, “What we don’t have is the date and quantifiable evidence.”

As a result, the institute has conducted a 12-week experiment that focuses on finding the ways in which the presence of animals, particularly dogs, have an effect on those on the spectrum. Over thirty students at Green Chimneys, who range between the ages of 8 and 15, where broken into four groups. Each week, two of the groups attended traditional therapy sessions that focused on their social skills, while the other two groups attended sessions that incorporated therapy dogs.

Lead researcher and clinical psychologist Erica Rogers analyzed how the groups differed, focusing on the difference in concentration and if dogs were either a distraction or an assistance to the therapy session. Thus far, the dogs have shown to improve expression in the children, and “they are certainly more excited to go to group therapy”, Rogers states. This alone may prove to be a huge benefit, as kids who are more eager to attend therapy will be more open to the experience and will find more fulfillment out of the session.

Michael Kaufman states, “The field of animal assisted therapy is about 30 years old. [But] in terms of data, it’s in its infancy.” As a result, Rogers and her team will continue to focus on this study throughout the remainder of the year. All findings will be published.

This study is just one instance of incorporating animals into therapy sessions. For example, the TherapeuticEquestrianCenter in Cold Spring uses horses for those with autism, as it helps them focus and calms them down. In addition, Guiding Eyes is an organization that trains dogs to partner with a child with autism. Many children, as well as individuals of all ages on the autism spectrum, have seen great benefits from incorporating animals into their lives; not only can they provide excitement and joy, but they can allow certain abilities to grow, such as socialization and expression.

Understanding and Preventing an Aspergers Meltdown

For those of you who are unaware, Aspergers is also called High-Functioning Autism.  Researchers say that people who have aspergers have brains that are wired differently and this “invisible syndrome” affects communication, social interaction as well as sensory issues. One of the most common events that go on in a day in the life of a child with aspergers is a meltdown.  When dealing with a problem, these children internalize everything and then eventually boil over in a rage, which then leads to a meltdown. Now, this may sound like a typical temper tantrum, but for a child and the family of that child, a temper tantrum would be a blessing compared to the gravity of the meltdowns that occur.

            A lot of the time, children with aspergers are thought to be over-receptive or under-receptive. They may be comfortable with one thing but not another, that is closely related to the first.  Many children with aspergers prefer rougher play, and have a high tolerance for pain, but become extremely uncomfortable with gentler treatment. Because of this thought-to-be hypersensitivity, parents and teachers usually end up recommending vision and hearing exams amongst other unnecessary evaluations.

            There are said to be 9 different temperaments that children with aspergers usually have. The 9 temperaments are: distractible, high intensity level, hyperactive, initial withdrawal, irregular, low sensory threshold, negative mood, negative persistent and poor adaptability.

            Meltdowns can be caused by anything from a minor incident, to a traumatic event. There are differences with a temper tantrum and a meltdown, when a meltdown occurs, the only way for a child to calm down is to either get exhausted (which also leaves the caregiver just as exhausted, if not more) or the child gains control of their emotions, which doesn’t happen most of the time and is very difficult for the child to achieve on their own. With a temper tantrum, children usually calm down quickly, whereas a child with aspergers will wail and throw a fit for extremely long periods of time.

            One big part of learning to cope is realizing that children with Aspergers usually don’t know or realize that their outbursts are inappropriate or exaggerated. At around age 8 or 9, it is recommended that parents talk to their child, only when they are calm, and mature enough to realize and understand that they have these outbursts, on how to control them and deal with things in a better way. Maybe developing a hand signal or sign to let the child know they are conducting inappropriate behavior. Don’t punish the child for having a meltdown, children with aspergers do not respond well to overwhelming emotions or aggressive punishments. If the child says they want to be left alone, do as they ask, checking back in on them is okay, but children with this syndrome like coping with emotions by themselves. Many children don’t like surprises or to be touched. When children without aspergers may hurt themselves and need a hug, those with aspergers may be sent deeper into their rage by the sudden and possibly unwanted physical contact.

            Here, at Shema Kolainu, we promote parental interaction at home to ensure the child’s developmental needs continue to be met and that they remain moving in the right direction. Parents, who understand and work with their children on how to appropriately cope with the real world, can develop an extremely deep bond with their child that they may never have accomplished otherwise. The key is to prevent the meltdowns before they occur, which is much easier than managing them once they have happened. A few tips to help prevent a meltdown would be avoid boredom, change environments, establish routines, choose your battles, give children control and choice over little things when you can, make sure children have a safe environment and are well rested and fed with a healthy diet, increase your tolerance level and very importantly, keep a sense of humor.

Original article


Aspergers Meltdown, How to Cope:



Be Safe Campaign Teaches Life Saving Skills

Emily Iland is the mother of her 30-year-old autistic son, who has grown into an independent and productive member of society. He lives on his own, holds a college degree, and works as an accountant. Before he was independent though, his mother spent many years advocating on his behalf. Now that her son is independent she is pushing to train autistic students, young adults, and adults alike on how to appropriately react to being stopped by a police officer.

People on the spectrum are actually seven times more likely than someone not on the spectrum to be involved with law officers as a victim, witness, or offender. In these interactions, autistics may act inappropriately, misread social cues, or become overwhelmed in a stressful situation.

Since 2007, Illand has been trying to train Los Angeles Police Department officers on how to recognize and interact with people who are on the spectrum. However, as much training as she would give the LAPD there was only so much they could do. “The police told me something,” she says, “If someone runs, you have to chase them. If someone puts their hand in their waistband, they have to assume they are reaching for a weapon. Even if they know that the person has autism, they have to respond to what they see.” This feedback made her realize the importance of training those on the spectrum, the appropriate skills to deal with law enforcement scenarios.

As part of her “Be Safe” campaign, Iland gives a few simple tips; don’t reach into your pocket, stay calm, show them your hands, if you are handcuffed or put into a patrol car try to be quiet, patient, and still, and if you are arrested make sure to tell the officers you have a disability and would like to speak to a lawyer. The “Be Safe” campaign included a DVD that features young people with autism role-playing police encounters, as well as a guidebook for parents, teachers, and counselors.

The video is based on real life cases where autistic individuals were misunderstood by law enforcement because they didn’t react with the appropriate social response, thus putting themselves in unnecessarily dangerous situations with the law. One mother, after watching the video, said about her autistic son who just got his license, “I worry about him all the time. He needs to know what to expect and how his actions are being perceived by police officers. He needs to know not to run, not to panic. I need to be able to trust his to let the officers do their job.”

Ever year, approximately 50,000 teenagers on the autism spectrum enter into adulthood and more recently because of expanding therapeutic services and programs, are able to enter the workforce, get a driver’s license, and be a part of mainstream society. It will be increasingly important for young adults, especially, who are on the spectrum, to have the appropriate skills to allow them to be safe and stay safe.

To read the original article, click HERE

Summertime Safety

Keeping an eye on your child can be a challenging task especially now that summer is here and kids want to play outside or go to parks and beaches with their families. This task can be especially challenging for families with autistic children. And water safety concerns are also particularly heightened for families of children with autism, says Varleisha Gibbs, OTD, OTR/L, occupational therapy professor at University of the Sciences in Philadelphia.

“Although water safety is a concern for all parents, children with autism are especially at a higher risk fordrowning because they may seek isolation by fleeing to unfamiliar territories,” says Dr. Gibbs. Drowning actually accounted for approximately 90 percent of the total U.S. deaths reported in children with autism ages 14 and younger, according to statistics from the National Autism Society. Research shows that about 50% of children with autism tend to flee or escape a safe environment and put themselves in dangerous situations. Dr. Gibbs outlines some tips for families during this hot summer:

  • Learn to swim: enroll your child in swimming or water safety classes as soon as possible
  • Visual learning: Use videos and images to talk to your child about water safety
  • Display reminders: if your child responds well to visual cues, consider posting signs on doors that lead to outside such as STOP or DO NOT ENTER, or even a hand signaling “stop”
  • Key information: Make sure your child knows his or her name, address, and phone number in case of an emergency. If they are nonverbal, they should wear a bracelet or have theiridentification information on them at all times.
  • Avoid sensory-overload: Try to prepare your child ahead of time for what they can expect as they enter a new environment such as a beach or theme park.
  • Alert others: Communicate with your neighbors and others in your community to alert you immediately if they see children wandering by themselves. 

“Swimming and aquatic therapy is actually a wonderful sport for children with autism because it can address many of their body’s sensory and motor needs. By preparing and communicating with your child with autism, family, and friends, summer trips and activities can be much less stressful and more enjoyable,” says Dr. Gibbs.